International Journal of Wildland Fire International Journal of Wildland Fire Society
Journal of the International Association of Wildland Fire
RESEARCH ARTICLE

Emissions of forest floor and mineral soil carbon, nitrogen and mercury pools and relationships with fire severity for the Pagami Creek Fire in the Boreal Forest of northern Minnesota

Randall K. Kolka A H , Brian R. Sturtevant B , Jessica R. Miesel C , Aditya Singh D , Peter T. Wolter E , Shawn Fraver F , Thomas M. DeSutter G and Phil A. Townsend D

A USDA Forest Service, Northern Research Station, 1831 Highway 169 East, Grand Rapids, MN 55744, USA.

B USDA Forest Service, Northern Research Station, 5985 Highway K, Rhinelander, WI 54501, USA.

C Michigan State University, Department of Forestry, 480 Wilson Road, East Lansing, MI 48824, USA.

D University of Wisconsin Madison, Department of Forest and Wildlife Ecology, 1630 Linden Drive, Madison, WI 53706, USA.

E Iowa State University, Department of Natural Resource Ecology and Management, 333 Science II, Ames, IA 50011, USA.

F University of Maine, School of Forest Resources, 5755 Nutting Hall, Orono, ME 04469, USA.

G North Dakota State University, Department of Soil Science, Walster Hall 106, Fargo, ND 58108, USA.

H Corresponding author. Email: rkolka@fs.fed.us

International Journal of Wildland Fire 26(4) 296-305 https://doi.org/10.1071/WF16128
Submitted: 16 July 2016  Accepted: 17 February 2017   Published: 30 March 2017

Abstract

Forest fires cause large emissions of C (carbon), N (nitrogen) and Hg (mercury) to the atmosphere and thus have important implications for global warming (e.g. via CO2 and N2O emissions), anthropogenic fertilisation of natural ecosystems (e.g. via N deposition), and bioaccumulation of harmful metals in aquatic and terrestrial systems (e.g. via Hg deposition). Research indicates that fires are becoming more severe over much of North America, thus increasing element emissions during fire. However, there has been little research relating forest floor and mineral soil losses of C, N and Hg to on-the-ground indices of fire severity that enable scaling up those losses for larger-scale accounting of fire-level emissions. We investigated the relationships between forest floor and mineral soil elemental pools across a range of soil-level fire severities following the 2011 Pagami Creek wildfire in northern Minnesota, USA. We were able to statistically differentiate losses of forest floor C, N and Hg among a five-class soil-level fire severity classification system. Regression relationships using soil fire severity class were able to predict remaining forest floor C, N and Hg pools with 82–96% confidence. We correlated National Aeronautics and Space Administration Airborne Visible and Infrared Imaging Spectrometer-Classic imagery to ground-based plot-scale estimates of soil fire severity to upscale emissions of C, N and Hg to the fire level. We estimate that 468 000 Mg C, 11 000 Mg of N and over 122 g of Hg were emitted from the forest floor during the burning of the 28 310 ha upland area of the Pagami Creek fire.

Additional keywords: atmospheric pollutants, forest fire, global warming, greenhouse gases, nutrients.


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